Millennium Post

High-profile corruption cases

CBI probes are loud on sound but little in substance.

High-profile corruption cases
Time and again, ruling political parties at the Centre have used the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to expose economic offences and corruption by chosen hi-profile members of the political opposition and their associates more to make political gains than for any genuine desire to fight corruption. It seems the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not want to be seen as a laggard in this regard. In fact, CBI raids have been back with a bang and vengeance. Regional opposition parties, running state governments and having a real presence in both houses of Parliament, were the first targets. For instance, at least two Trinamool Congress MPs, including the TMC parliamentary party's Lok Sabha leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, have been under CBI custody for months in a chit fund case.

CBI is making little progress in the investigation, excepting repeating high-pitch allegations about their political contacts and profile. Last week, ailing Bandyopadhyay was granted bail by the Orissa High Court. CBI, now, threatens to move Supreme Court against the order. Lately, with former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav having tiffs with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a political ally, CBI seemed to have been quickly pushed into the act of conducting an investigation into alleged financial irregularities by Lalu Prasad's kin. This recently led to raids in some 22 locations in and around Delhi unearthing some dozens of the family's shell firms. The raids on Lalu Prasad's kin and their ultimate results threaten to put the RJD-backed Nitish Kumar government on the mat. As usual, CBI's propaganda machine blew up the news before the national and regional media that put Lalu Prasad, his family and the party in an awkward spot.

Similarly, recent CBI raids at the residence of Karti Chidambaram and his father Palaniappan Chidambaram, a three-time Union Finance Minister under two different governments — one led by Deve Gowda and the other by Manmohan Singh — in pursuit of several cases of financial corruption in the last ten years — may not be without a political objective although the corruption part could be genuine and serious. As finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram projected himself as an anti-corruption crusader. His wife, a lawyer, was in the news for helping Manoranja Sinh, a former Delhi journalist turned estranged wife of Assam Congress leader Matang Sinh, involved in a ponzi scam being investigated by CBI. The noose is also being tightened on Robert Vadra, Congress president Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, for his questionable land deals in Rajasthan and Haryana that had allegedly helped make the son of a Moradabad-based small-time brassware manufacturer a billionaire. Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice-president, themselves along with others face a massive financial corruption case involving the transfer of assets of Associated Journal Ltd., publisher of National Herald.

The current number of very high-profile anti-corruption cases, involving some of the top opposition politicians and handled mostly by CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED), is probably the highest under any government. They include the National Herald case, in which other accused named are Oscar Fernandes and Motilal Vora; Aircel-Maxis case involving Palaniappan Chidambaram and Maran brothers among others; cases against Aam Aadmi Party allegedly involving Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal among others; enquiry against former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat; case against Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh; Gurgaon land allotment case against former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda; multi-crore National Rural Health Mission Scam involving former UP Chief Minister Mayawati; Rs. 113-crore J&K Cricket Association scam involving National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah; ambulance purchase scandal involving Congress leaders Sachin Pilot, Ashok Gehlot, Karti Chidambaram and Ravi Krishna, son of former minister Vyalar Ravi; disproportionate assets case against YSR Congress leader Jagan Mohan Reddy; and money laundering case against former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal. These cases, if anything, suggest the extent of high-level political corruption existing in the country. However, in reality, especially going by the success rates of such cases, few end up in prosecution as the investigating agencies routinely fail to establish them in the end for whatever reasons.

This is disturbing as the investigating agencies severely damage the political clout and names of opposition leaders by carrying out wild and mischievous media publicity, which they fail to establish before the court of law. For example, the CBI filed closure reports in as many as 12 high-profile cases during its director Ranjit Sinha's 22-month tenure 'for want of prosecutable evidence' after a lot of media publicity around them. Among those investigations closed were: coal block allocation cases against former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and Kumarmangalam Birla; government-owned BEML and Tetra Vector Motors (defence) deal; Adarsh Society scam involving former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan; case against Jas Infrastructure and JLD Yavatmal, owned by Congress MP Vijay Darda; Rs 1,150 crore Barak missile case; disproportionate assets case against Vincent George, former personal secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi; and disproportionate asset cases against two former UP Chief Ministers, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, on account of 'grossly insufficient evidence.' The instances of such high-profile closures continue. "We can't file charge sheets randomly. The evidence we produce have to stand scrutiny in a court of law," a CBI official said. The CBI had registered several hi-profile cases in 2013, including one on coal block allocations, procurement of 12 VVIP helicopters from Finmeccanica and a bribery case relating to a Railway Board staff member. The CBI has also registered a preliminary enquiry into the alleged Rs10,000-crore supply of aircraft engines to state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd by Rolls Royce.

The questions are: if CBI can't establish cases against hi-profile politicians and individuals, why does it publicly prosecute them through mischievous media briefings before charge sheets are filed in court? Who instigates such media feeds? Why high-profile political cases are dumped ahead or soon after a change of government at the Centre? Why sully anyone's name at least before filing a chargesheet? Sadly, few trust agencies like CBI and ED, especially in hi-profile political corruption cases as most of them are apparently launched and closed at the instance of the ruling political party at the Centre.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)
Nantoo Banerjee

Nantoo Banerjee

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